The Hamas abduction of three Israeli teenagers last week has elicited impressive solidarity all across Israeli society. But Israelis are also paying close attention to the reactions from near and far to this terror crime, and they are not impressed. The fallout from this episode is going to linger long after the kidnapping has been resolved.
From the Israeli viewpoint–and, one would have hoped, the perspective of the Western world–abduction is simply wrong. The kidnapping of minors is particularly evil. Is it really too much to ask for categorical condemnation when the kidnapping victims are Israeli youths?
Sadly, the answer from many quarters appears to be “yes.”
The European Union got around to criticizing the kidnapping of the Israeli boys–after five days of silence on the matter. Even then, the EU only spoke in the context of damage the kidnapping might cause to the peace process: “Such acts can only undermine international efforts to encourage a resumption of peace negotiations,” said the dry European Union statement.
The American administration was only somewhat better. The State Department waited a few days, then condemned the abduction strongly–only to urge Israeli “restraint” in practically its next breath.
Just a few weeks ago, the White House could not say enough about the abduction of Nigerian girls, promising to “to do everything we can to recover these young ladies.” Yet, President Obama has been strangely silent about the kidnapping of the Israeli boys.
But it is the Palestinian reaction which has been most depressing–and illuminating.
After several days of silence, and under heavy diplomatic pressure, Mahmoud Abbas finally condemned the abduction. But he has been alone: not only are there no other Palestinian voices of condemnation, but Abbas has been pilloried by other Palestinians for his criticism. Not even paying lip service to the evils of kidnapping, the Palestinian public reaction has been uniformly in favor.
The abduction has been endorsed by a full spectrum of Palestinian politicians. But it is the popular celebration of the kidnapping on the streets and in Palestinian social media which has most stunned Israelis.
The most egregious outpouring of pro-kidnap sentiment is the online campaigns applauding the abduction, the most popular of which is the “Three Schalits” campaign. The name is in reference to Gilad Schalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006 and returned in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 terrorists.
The logo of “Three Schalits” depicts a three-fingered salute, in reference to the three abducted boys. On the “Three Schalits” Facebook page appear dozens of photos of smiling Palestinians holding up the three-fingered symbol in various locales. Israelis know how to read between the lines.
Many of those photographed flashing the sign are young children. Sweet-looking children. Palestinian children. Celebrating the kidnapping of Israeli children.
Israelis are shocked and saddened, realizing just how much still divides the Palestinians from the Israeli people.
As farcical as the recently-failed Obama/Kerry peace negotiations may have been, they coincided with a period of relative quiet. And periods of quiet lull Israel into a sense that perhaps the populations are not so far apart, that maybe the differences between the Israeli and Palestinian people can be bridged, that perhaps formalized peaceful coexistence is not so far off. True, peace processes invariably fall apart, but perhaps that reflects failures with the leadership, not with the people.
After all, the last round of peace negotiations effectively ended when Mahmoud Abbas issued his “Three No’s”–that under any proposed agreement, there could be no compromise on granting the right to every Palestinian to move into Israel, no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and no final end to the conflict with Israel. But that intransigence came from Abbas himself, who hasn’t faced voters in nearly a decade; perhaps the Palestinian rank and file had evolved to be more reasonable and less uncompromising?
The kidnapping celebration has thrown cold water on such thoughts. Furthermore, other information has emerged in the wake of the abduction that sheds light on how not ready for peace with Israel the Palestinians actually are.
It turns out that the recent relative quiet is an illusion: while there have been few successful Palestinian attacks against Israelis, it’s not for a lack of trying; Shin Bet statistics show that there were 187 serious attacks thwarted in 2013, 28 of which were attempted kidnappings.
Also, police officials in Israel revealed that 42 percent of all emergency calls they field in the West Bank are fake, placed by Palestinians intentionally trying up tie up the lines and hobble response time to real alerts.
In addition, Israeli security forces searching the West Bank for the boys have uncovered dozens of hidden tunnels and explosives manufacturing facilities inside the homes of Palestinians.
These are not the indicia of peace.
Israelis suffer from the natural tendency to believe that people are largely the same, and that others–even our adversaries–are therefore very much like us. We all share the same basic needs and aspirations, and live through similar life cycles. Peace with people so similar should be achievable.
This week, Israel learned yet again that this is a delusion.
Israelis see the callous barbarity and dehumanization of the Palestinian pro-kidnap movement and conclude: they do not like us; they are not like us.
That realization will weigh on Palestinian-Israeli interactions well into the future.